Let me repeat that, in case you’re one of those people who don’t read the title of a post: If you buy only one book this year, forget about my poor efforts. Yes, I’m continuing the shifters and DST and the one that started with Deep Pink and there’s other stuff, but forget about my poor efforts!
You may thank me later, at your leisure.
Cloud-Castles (Commission earned on this link)
Augustus Thistlewood was an idealist. The youngest scion of a vastly wealthy family, he’d come to help the poor, deprived people of the strange world of Sybill III – a gas-dwarf world with no habitable land. The human population, descendants of a crashed convict transport, lived on a tiny, crowded, alien antigravity plate they called ‘the Big Syd’, drifting through the clouds in the upper atmosphere. It was a few square miles of squalor, in a vast sea of sky, ruled by the degenerate relics of two alien empires.
The problem was that the people of the Big Syd wanted to help themselves, first – to his money, his liberty, and even his life.
Only two things stood between them and this: the first was his ‘assistant’ Briz, – a ragged urchin he’d picked up as a guide. She reckoned if anyone was going to steal from Augustus, it was going to be her, even if she had to keep him alive so that she could do it. And the second thing was Augustus himself. He didn’t know what ‘giving up’ meant. Actually, he didn’t know what most things meant. As a naïve, wide-eyed innocent blundering through the cess-pit of Sybill III, he was going to have to learn, mostly the hard way. Some of that learning was going to be out in the strange society that existed on the endless drifting clumps of airborne vegetation, and the Cloud-Castles of the aliens who hunted across them. Most of it was learning that philanthropy wasn’t quite what they’d taught him in college.
Now, the skinny on the book. First of all my bias disclosure: I’ve known Dave Freer for what feels like my entire life. It’s not true of course. Only about twenty one years or so. But Dave Freer is the person who introduced me to Georgette Heyer; who got me to understand that there was nothing wrong with my plotting, I just didn’t know how to foreshadow; and who kept me this side of the sod when everything came crashing around my ears in 2003. (Okay, not true, but helped. My husband was also doing quite a bit of making me realize it wasn’t me, it was the industry.)
Used to be, when we were younger and life was not quite as crazy, that we spent my early morning and his late night telling each other horrible jokes. And by gum, some day Necrophiliac Duck Press will exist. Other than as a joke so stupid I’m not going to explain it. BUT for the record I’m chuckling as I write this.
That said, it didn’t take me very long to realize Dave Freer was one of the great, if not one of the greatest (Well, Pratchett was better…) writers of our time.
I also won’t lie and say there isn’t a slight cultural mismatch with Americans that means we have to work a little harder. Not that it’s insurmountable. What Dave Freer never got was enough publisher support to surmount it. In that, he’s not different from Pratchett who languished for ten years in low midlist in the US until he changed publisher and agent and THEN suddenly was very high list indeed.
However, like Pratchett, Dave Freer has a deep insight about the human condition that pays off your “slight more work” to get in the mind frame.
This book was given to me free (And yeah, I’ve also bought a copy, because I want it on my Kindle) in manuscript form, to read for Dave.
For perspective, this landed on me when I was so sick I could only stay awake for about an hour at a time, and keep a thought in my head for ten minutes. What one of you described to me as “I was so sick all I could do was passively stare at a pictures.”
And yet, the book grabbed me enough I wanted to know what would happen next. So when I was awake, I was reading and following as best I could.
It starts as an “innocent abroad” type of story. Some of the situations seem rather…. obvious. But they manage to be both hilarious and horrifying, so you limp along going “Oh my heavens.”
And you slot all the characters into easy, not demanding, stereotypical roles, including the very wealthy family you slot as robber barons.
And… and it changes on you. And the characters change on you. And they become achingly human and important, and people you know and care for deeply.
And then in the end you cry at the love affair. Even though you knew it was coming all along.
I’m going to repeat this, in case you fell asleep through my “still groggy from being sick” prose: IF YOU BUY ONLY ONE BOOK THIS YEAR, BUY CLOUD-CASTLES.
Now go read it. We do not hold any responsibility for your coming out of this speaking horrible pseudo-Australian slang. In my case it was transitory since holding a thought in my head is still an accomplishment post virus.
Go. Read. And if you think you should nominate it for a Prometheus award, I’ll say you’re probably right. 😉
I am heartily jealous of all of you, getting to read it for the first time.